Senior UK judges resign from roles at Hong Kong court over human rights concerns

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said it was no longer tenable for UK judges to sit in Hong Kong’s top court.

30 March 2022

British judges will be withdrawn from serving in Hong Kong’s top court because of concerns about the erosion of human rights.

The Foreign Office said it was “no longer tenable” for serving UK judges to sit in the court because of the impact of the national security law imposed by Beijing.

President of the Supreme Court Lord Reed and deputy president Lord Hodge have both now quit as non-permanent judges at the Hong Kong court.

UK judges had continued to sit in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal since the territory was handed back to China in 1997.

But Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said their presence risked “legitimising oppression” because of the Hong Kong authorities’ actions, including restrictions on freedom of expression, the stifling of opposition voices, and the criminalising of dissent.

She said: “We have seen a systematic erosion of liberty and democracy in Hong Kong.

“Since the national security law was imposed, authorities have cracked down on free speech, the free press and free association.

“The situation has reached a tipping point where it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit on Hong Kong’s leading court, and would risk legitimising oppression.

“I welcome and wholeheartedly support the decision to withdraw British judges from the court.”

The decision to pull serving UK judges from Hong Kong’s top court was taken following discussions with Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and Lord Reed.

The Supreme Court president said: “The courts in Hong Kong continue to be internationally respected for their commitment to the rule of law.

“Nevertheless, I have concluded, in agreement with the Government, that the judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression, to which the justices of the Supreme Court are deeply committed.”

Mr Raab said: “Since 2020 and the introduction of the national security law, our assessment of the situation in Hong Kong is that it has shifted too far from the freedoms that we hold dear – making free expression and honest critique of the state a criminal offence.

“This flies in the face of the handover agreement we have had with China since 1997 and, having discussed at length with the Foreign Secretary and the president of the Supreme Court, we regretfully agree that it is no longer appropriate for serving UK judges to continue sitting in Hong Kong courts.

“I thank our judges for being a bastion of international rule of law in Hong Kong over the past 25 years.”

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